While high-profile cases have focused our collective attention, finally, to this issue, the sheer pervasiveness of harassment and assault and our growing realization that so many have suffered in silence has brought us to this moment.
The fact that the “Silence Breakers” of the #MeToo movement were named Person of the Year by Time magazine acknowledges what we know to be true: We are living a moment of intense cultural reckoning about men’s behavior toward women.
Men who were once seen as untouchable, who wielded power to isolate, humiliate and violate, are now being called out. A full-throated, collective roar, coming from millions of women who have been subject to abuse, has captured our global attention.
We must remember the stories we are hearing from the #MeToo movement are not new, and they’re not anomalies. They are stories that are common in all communities and professions; no community has been unharmed or unaffected by gender-based violence.
We all have something to gain and a role to play in making sure this moment is the start of a true cultural shift toward a world without violence, disrespect or exploitation.
Day in and day out, decade after decade, member programs of the Coalition Ending Gender-Based Violence have helped countless survivors of all genders, from across King County, who have experienced domestic violence, sexual assault and commercial sexual exploitation. While their stories are all unique, and often intensified by experiences of racism, poverty and marginalization, they share a common foundation — distorted concepts of masculinity, power and sexuality that permeate our culture.
The catcall on the street, the inappropriate request for a “massage,” bragging “you can do anything” to women when you are rich, “having sex” with someone who is too drunk to resist, and justifying the sexual abuse of a young child who “looks old for their age,” all reflect a disregard for women’s humanity and an attitude of entitlement to other people’s bodies that boys and men are taught, and all too many choose to exploit.
While high-profile cases have focused our collective attention, finally, to this issue, the sheer pervasiveness of harassment and assault and our growing realization that so many have suffered in silence has brought us to this moment. This is not a fleeting moment — this requires a continued commitment toward growth and change.
It benefits all of us to learn, listen and act.
Each of us has a role to play in ending gender-based violence.
It starts with listening to the experiences of survivors, and seeing them as credible. This means believing that many men do engage in sexually demeaning, harassing or coercive behaviors, even men we admire, respect or love. And it means believing that no one invites or deserves to be demeaned, harassed or coerced, no matter how they dress, what they do or how they react.
It grows with men choosing to lean in to their discomfort and question their deeply held, learned assumptions about masculinity and power.
It continues when we, as communities and as individuals, hold the people who have caused harm responsible for their actions, and work toward healthier behavior.
It goes further when children are taught to respect girls and women, to allow boys a full range of emotions, and to value relationships based on mutuality and respect.
It is solidified when we choose leaders who adopt strong public policies and budgets that prioritize the safety and health of survivors, and demonstrate this commitment in their personal and professional lives.
And it comes full circle when we all refuse to be silent when we see anyone being demeaned, harassed or abused.
People of all genders deserve lives free of fear and full of potential. Everyone’s life is fuller when systemic, gender-based violence — in all its forms — ends.